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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Overcast
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Job pick stirs controversy
Mayoral aide got plum city post over other qualified applicants
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Brenda Konkel: 'She's not qualified.'
Brenda Konkel: 'She's not qualified.'
Credit:Mary Langenfeld

Jeanne Hoffman has an impressive resume. She's spent the past four years as an aide to Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and was his deputy campaign manager in 2003. Before that, she was executive director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.

But what Hoffman hasn't done is work as an architect or engineer, and she's never overseen any building operations - all stated qualifications for the city of Madison's new facilities and sustainability manager. So how did Hoffman get the position?

Ald. Brenda Konkel thinks it's not right. "This is an engineering or architecture job," she says. "She's not qualified."

Former Mayor Paul Soglin is also troubled, saying Hoffman's hiring "creates a lack of trust" in the process. He sees this and Cieslewicz's move a few years ago to shorten manager contracts as signaling "the politicization" of city government.

The facilities and sustainability manager is a new position created by Cieslewicz this year. Hoffman officially started the job on May 6, though she's been on maternity leave since giving birth to a daughter in April.

As manager, Hoffman will oversee the operation and maintenance of all 280 city buildings, from the Municipal Building downtown to police and fire stations. She's also charged with making the buildings more energy efficient and ensuring that new construction is built "green" - using sustainable materials and design. She'll be paid $83,590 annually.

"If someone's going to get paid that much money, they should at least have a degree in the field," says Konkel. "If you look at the skills required, there's quite a lot of experience she doesn't have."

In advertising the position, the city asked for someone with an engineering or architecture degree, or other relevant "training and/or experience." Hoffman has a business administration degree from the UW-Stout, with an emphasis on marketing. She noted on her application that she built up the Bicycle Federation, oversaw the city's new recycling program and helped facilitate its acquisition of 230 acres of open space in Cherokee Marsh.

The city selected six finalists, including Hoffman, from a pool of 25 applicants. Records show that four of the other candidates have extensive experience in engineering or architecture. One is a facilities manager at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. Another works for a national environmental consulting firm. A third has a master's degree in architecture and is a project manager at Western Michigan University. Another finalist has, like Hoffman, a background in business administration - but also an MBA and a law degree.

Hoffman declines comment. Mayoral aide George Twigg says the pick was made by city engineer Larry Nelson without any input from the mayor's office or any intent to curry favor.

"What Brenda's accusing Larry of would be official misconduct," says Twigg. "She either needs to present evidence that it's true or apologize to Larry."

Nelson defends his selection of Hoffman. "I've got plenty of engineers," he says dismissively. "We don't have a manager who can pull all the interests together. That's the person I was looking for." He also liked Hoffman's enthusiasm for sustainable building. "Jeanne Hoffman was pushing green building before it was cool."

And he says Hoffman, despite her marketing background, won't have any problem leading a staff of engineers and architects.

"Just because you're an engineer doesn't mean you can manage," he says, adding that he's worked with Hoffman "on a daily basis" for the past four years. "I've personally observed her ability to pull a lot of people together. I'm pleased with Jeanne. I know what she's capable of."

Cable bill a done deal

Mary Bennin Cardona is among those who believe that the controversial Video Competition Act is still deeply flawed. But she's lost hope that it can get any better.

"Apparently some kind of deal has been struck with the cable industry," fumes Cardona, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of PEG Access Channels. (PEG stands for public, educational and government.)

The bill, which passed the state Assembly earlier this month and is now before the Joint Finance Committee, would let cable companies establish a single statewide franchise, instead of negotiating deals with individual municipalities (Madison.gov, 4/6/07). After critics complained the bill could cost cities millions of dollars in franchise fees, it was amended to let municipalities keep some fees.

Cardona wants to amend the bill further to include a statewide access fee - about 55 cents per subscriber per month - to fund public channels like WYOU and City Channel 12. The current bill eliminates all access fees within three years. She's also upset that companies will not have to provide basic service (usually a few local channels for $10-$15 a month) and that the state of Wisconsin, rather than local officials, will take consumer complaints. Says Cardona, "You'll have to wait in line with one guy at the state who will handle consumer complaints."

The bill's current incarnation was brokered by state Sen. Jeff Plale (D-Milwaukee), in exchange for concessions from the cable industry. Plale's chief of staff, Katy Venskus, says the biggest problems have now been addressed. For instance, public access channels won't have to provide 12 hours of daily content, as originally proposed.

"This bill looks about as good as it possibly could," says Venskus, adding that Plale won't consider a statewide access fee because "this bill is meant to lower prices." By seeking the fee, "the PEG association is being somewhat opportunistic."

Put it on your card

The city of Madison plans to install new "pay and display" parking meters in downtown Madison. Drivers can use a debit or credit card - as well as coins - to pay the meter, which then gives them a time-stamped ticket to display on their dashboards.

Parking czar Bill Knobeloch plans a 90-day trial for the new meters on East Main and South Pinckney streets (near the Isthmus offices). And removing the old parking meters will free up space for the outdoor cafes in front of the Casbah and the Local. "They won't have the meter poles to contend with anymore," he says.

Meantime, the city is testing another kind of meter on Henry and West Main streets that takes credit cards. "The initial feedback is very positive," says Knobeloch. "Almost everyone has liked it."

The new meters cost between $5,000 and $10,000 each, compared to about $500 for the old coin-operated meters. But Knobeloch says they make it easier for people to pay. "There are many cities, like Toronto, where this is all they have."

Head of his class

You may now address him as "Mr. President." Fitchburg Mayor Tom Clauder was recently elected head of the Dane County Cities and Villages Association.

"You can still talk to me," he jokes. "No appointment needed."

Clauder says the association will be dealing with the perennial issues of land use and transportation. And the state Legislature may again try to pass a property-tax freeze, the bane of local government. "There's talk of it," he says. "We have to keep our ear to the ground."

And Clauder hopes to expand the group's membership. It currently represents 19 cities and villages. But some municipalities - including Stoughton - have not joined. Clauder thinks they're missing out. "I need to go out and talk to Stoughton," he says. The association "is a good voice for Dane County."

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